Ambassador Harry Tomas Speech on Philippines Human and Sex Trafficking

Honorable Adolfo S. Azcun,  Honorable Delilah Vidallon Magtolis, Honorable Nimfa Cuesta-Vilches, Honorable Andres B. Reyes, Jr., Honorable Pampio Abarintos, Honorable Romulo V. Borja,Distinguished members of the court of appeals, Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.Thank you for having me here today.  It is a special honor to have this opportunity to speak with all of you today, particularly about a subject I care about deeply – stopping the trafficking of our fellow humans.
     The evils of human trafficking are something I feel personally.  Within this very city and all around the world, there are vulnerable women, men, and even children who are being bought and sold every day by human traffickers to be exploited, often forced into prostitution.  This is nothing less than slavery.  It is a form of slavery that predominately targets women and girls -- an estimated 80 percent of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls.  These victims place a powerful call for justice to all of us, and those victims urgently need our help.
Human trafficking. Main origin (red) and desti...
     The Philippines has responded to this call for justice in many ways – building public awareness to stop the trafficking persons before it begins, establishing shelters for the victims, and prosecuting the criminals involved.  The Supreme Court of the Philippines has helped lead the way.  The Court has prioritized and expedited trafficking cases, helping to protect the most vulnerable and strengthening the rule of law by ensuring that these important cases are not lost under the heavy workload that the courts must manage. 
     The practical, hands-on approach you are taking today helps ensure a harmonized approach by the courts of the Philippines.  This case analysis and template refinement will set a clear standard for trial courts and help to provide consistency across the country.   Establishing clear expectations will also help prosecutors achieve lawful convictions.
     It is common to talk about international best practices in efforts to combat crime; I think your approach today really is a model for other countries around the world to follow.  For that, I thank you all.
     Criminal sentencing is also a critical and uniquely judicial function.  Worldwide, human trafficking for sexual exploitation presents somewhat different sentencing issues than many crimes because of the manner in which it is facilitated.  Most crimes are committed in secret, where the public is unaware that this activity takes place.  Sex businesses, by contrast, are not subtle; they advertize directly to get clients.  It is therefore often corruption that allows these notorious establishments to continue to operate -- the local officials who look the other way or accepts a payoff.  These officials are doubly guilty – they have allowed trafficking to continue and they betray the public trust placed in them to protect all citizens and deserve enhanced sentences for this betrayal.
     I have a request. I hope that your findings will be used to strengthen and refine the Philippines Trafficking in Persons law.  I know that neither the executive nor the courts dictate to the legislative branch.  Nevertheless, your practical experience in seeing how the TIP law is actually used -- what are its strengths and what are its gaps -- could be a tremendous resource for legislators who are now in the process of considering amendments to the very law that you must interpret in your daily work.
     The prosecution of human traffickers is one part of the solution.  Effectively combating TIP demands the traditional three Ps -- prevention, protection, and prosecution.  There is an emerging fourth P, that of partnership.  We can proudly say that our two countries have made significant progress against human trafficking by working together.  The United States continues to partner with the Philippines in fighting against human trafficking and my Embassy is ready to support your efforts to make this latest form of human slavery a crime of the past.  
     Thank you for having me here today and for taking the time to address one of the most fundamental challenges to a society – the exploitation of its most vulnerable members.   By protecting them, we improve the rule of law for all.  Everybody has a role to play in this serious fight.